Sunday July 8, 2012
Hello, let’s have a conversation
WHEN was the last time you sat down and had a heart-to-heart conversation with someone?
Do you feel all alone even though you have been in the company of family, friends and colleagues this past week?
Did your boss really talk to you or was he just “talking” to you through e-mail and SMS?
Social media has done a lot in connecting and reconnecting people, and I am thankful that I can be in touch with friends who are geographically too far away to have a cup of coffee with me.
But increasingly, we can see that even those in close proximity are treated as though they are in some faraway land.
Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at MIT and author of the book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, recently wrote a column in The New York Times in which she said, “We are tempted to think that our little sips of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t.
“E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places – in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.”
Simon Jenkins wrote in The Guardian a week later and agreed with her that the proliferation of the Internet and social media has led to the death of conversation.
Both articles went viral, as expected, and hundreds of comments were posted, which proved their point that we would sooner debate an issue online than talk it out face to face.
So when was the last time you had a real conversation with someone?
I took an elderly man to lunch last week.
We went to a nice restaurant nearby. Over the next hour, we chatted about almost everything. It was a wonderful experience.
The irony of it all was that this man had been my colleague until he retired some years back.
I had no time for him then, other than the perfunctory hello, even though he would be the first person I meet at the basement where I park the car.
Does this not sound familiar?
Turkle, in her commentary, suggested that we should take deliberate steps to encourage conversation.
“At home, we can create sacred spaces: the kitchen, the dining room. We can make our cars device-free zones. We can demonstrate the value of conversation to our children,” she writes.
“And we can do the same thing at work. There we are so busy communicating that we often don’t have time to talk to one another about what really matters. Employees asked for casual Fridays; perhaps managers should introduce conversational Thursdays.”
Yeah, why not?
I think we should all start to talk to one another and not forever have our heads looking downwards at some mobile device.
We should start using our legs to take us to the colleague we want to have a word with, rather than stay cocooned in our own cubicle and send off a message via the PC.
The death of conversation, I fear, is only the prelude to the death of human civilisation.
That’s a scary thought, and I will be most happy to talk about this with anyone over a cuppa. Just send me an e-mail or SMS.
> Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin recently saw a family of four having dinner, heads bowed, and thought they were giving thanks for the food. Actually they were busy with their mobile devices.